Yes, I have found the road to Carvana. And I will share it with you.
First, let me say that even newcomers like me have heard the legends of Yangon’s empty roads of yore. It was like the traffic on election day, but every day, they say. But the city, rather than update its infrastructure, chose to live as if the massive tax on imported cars would simply never end. Now with an iron river as long as the Ayeyarwady and slow as a slug, Yangon reaps its carma.
A mere month ago, I, too, was like you: Stuck at one of the new flyover projects, taxi awash with four different flavours of air freshener, Mickey Mouse bobbling his head on the dashboard, knowing in my heart there must be a better way.
Then I got a bike. And just like that, I was free.
I named it the Millennium Falcon. It’s a quick, scrappy little machine cobbled together from an old Japanese racing frame, cross-country gear set and commuter tires, and it weaves and darts through rush-hour gridlock like a cat burglar on the rooftops.
It’s almost always faster than a taxi, sometimes twice as fast, and even when not, nothing can match coasting past a long line of stalled vehicles trapped in the motorists’ realm. Plus, the bike will fit nicely into the cargo hatch of many of the cabs if you do need a lift.
The only thing it costs is the possibility of violent death.
See, once you have the bike, there is no real trick after that. You have to ride on the street; sidewalks are an impassable jungle of pedestrians and open drains.
You can exercise caution, but one can only be so safe when collisions that would leave motorists with a dent and an argument leave cyclists folded in funny angles.
Thus, my survival strategy: Ride in such a way that even the taxi drivers think, “That guy’s nuts.”
It helps to listen to music, fast paced jazz for me. It makes riding a kind of dance, instead of an adrenaline-fuelled nightmare, when you manoeuvre through shifting steel hulks, try to use traffic as a shield for other traffic, or find yourself caught between two buses, walls closing in, betel spit flying from both directions, like a scene from “Indiana Jones”.
I suspect the jazz also helps drown out a small voice reminding me that it’s only a matter of time before I wake up in a full body cast and a breathing tube and discover I haven’t escaped the cycle of carma after all.
That’s a joke, but it would be funnier if it wasn’t so close to the truth. I don’t actually think I could die. Well, I wear a helmet and tell myself that. Perhaps I do it because a daily tango with mortality is just the thing for a white guy with virtually no real problems in life. What I do know is this: Commuting was once perhaps the very worst part of Yangon life, but now it is a true joy.
So whatever your personal path to Carvana, the secret isn’t beating traffic, but realising that there is no traffic. There’s just a bunch of people in cars.
Title image: Jared Downing / Frontier